Whale tail artwork pays homage to rowing legend

By Mare Haimona-Riki

A two-metre painted whale tail was welcomed into the Auckland Rowing Club on Saturday morning by mana whenua from Waikato-Tainui. The piece pays homage to New Zealand’s first Olympic rowing gold medalist Dudley Storey.

"We’ve come to support the two clubs here, Te Ngā Hau Maiangi and Auckland Rowing Club. They put the tono out to us to come and support the occasion, and it was important for us to be here given the significance of this place from our ancestral canoe Tainui,” says Waikato Tainui spokesperson Jake Ratu.

The project is spearheaded by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).  Over the next 12 weeks, 80 tail sculptures designed by 80 artists will tell 80 stories of a healthy ocean inspired by a Hauraki Gulf resident.

The whale tail sits between the Auckland Rowing Club and Tāmaki River.

WWF-New Zealand CEO Livia Esterhazy says these sculptures represent the Bryde’s Whales that are found in the Hauraki Gulf/Tīikapa Moana/Te Moana Nui a Toi, which is one of only three places in the world to have a resident year-round population.

“Bryde’s Whales are an indicator of ocean health," she says.

"If our whale populations are healthy and thriving, it is a sign our ocean is also healthy and thriving. Whale Tales is the story of a healthy ocean."

There were well over 100 people in attendance at the event, including current and former members from both the Auckland Rowing Club (ARC) and adjacent Ngā Hau Maiangi Waka Ama. Those present included triple Halberg Sportsman of the Year recipient Rob Wadell, Dudley Storey’s wife and ARC president Paula, and longtime friend and fellow crewmate Ross Collinge, who competed with Dudley at the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games.

“He was so strong, I had no option but to just keep in time with him. So if I did that, our boat seemed to do pretty well,” says Collinge.

“And off the water, he was my big brother and I just loved him to bits. He was a great man and I will never forget him.”

Warren Cole, Ross Collinge, Dudley Storey, Dick Joyce and cox Simon Dickie receiving their gold medals at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

After the pōwhiri, the whale tail was secured to a solid stone pedestal, where it will sit for years to come as a beacon to the Hauraki Harbour and rowing community.

Dudley’s daughter Alison says it is a fitting tribute as her father had so much passion for both the sport and the ocean.

“This project honouring the waterways and restoring the waterways in the Hauraki Gulf is something he’d be so proud of,” Alison says.